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July/August 2005 | Mexico City

July/August 2005 | Mexico City

One of the world's most populous metropolises blossoms into a queer mecca

Several lifetimes ago, as a wanderlust-struck kid stuck in a Miami that hadn’t yet become chic and sexy, I escaped my mundane existence by compulsively collecting travel brochures and dreaming of faraway lands. The flashiest jewel in my baby tiara was a Mexico Tourism Board poster of a young, loincloth-clad Aztec. It’s not every day (even for a seasoned globe-trotter) that a long-held dream comes so tantalizingly close—much as Mexico D.F. itself (D.F. stands for Distrito Federal, similar to our Washington, D.C.) turned out to be a dream destination in ways I’d never expected. Sure, I’d long been curious to gaze upon the imposing pyramids of the sun and moon at nearby Teotihuacán (an hour’s drive away through the city’s cement northern barrios); take in the awesome archeological treasures of the Museo Nacional de Antropología; paddle the fabled canals of Xochimilco; and check out for myself the colonial churches and palaces cheek by jowl with Aztec ruins. But in a wide world with no shortage of other new and exciting places to explore, in my mind all that had always been outweighed by a feeling that, its undeniable attractions notwithstanding, this megalopolis of 9 million would be a somewhat dirty, seedy, traffic-choked, crime-ridden mix of skyscrapers and shantytowns.

So when I recently hopped on a two-hour Aeroméxico flight from Miami to meet with a Mexican studio about a movie project I was to write for, it was frankly with pretty low expectations. And I was pleased to find how wrong I was. Recent movies like Man on Fire (about kidnapping) and press horror stories have scared Americans into thinking that Mexico City must be a seething cauldron of crime and violence. But what I found was a city with its share of poverty, yes, crime, and at times horrendous traffic, but also plenty of dynamic, fascinating colonias (neighborhoods) like hip Condesa and Roma, upscale shop-till-you-plotz Polanco, the party-hearty Zona Rosa, and artsy, gorgeously colonial San Angel and Coyoacán (where you should on pain of being hit by a streetcar not miss the house-museum of famously bisexual painter Frida Kahlo). Then of course there’s the Centro Histórico (historic downtown) with its famous Zócalo (cathedral square), lovely colonial buildings, and evocative Aztec ruins, all now being spruced up and even gentrified a bit, lifting it from years of shabbiness in the wake of a devastating 1985 earthquake (in which about 10,000 people perished). It has world-class shopping, dining that whether cheap or chic drives home what a crime against nature Taco Bell is, top-notch clubbing, and a security situation that’s on the mend and easily navigable with common sense (I never felt unsafe here, even at 4 in the morning).

It’s even got an ever-growing hip factor, thanks in part to that downtown renaissance, increasing prosperity, and movies like Y Tu Mamá También (“And Your Mama Too”), directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who’s gone on to Hollywood glory with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the soon-to-be released The Children of Men. Übercool hotels like the W, Habita, and Condesa have been popping up like taco stands; the city has recently gotten its own Time Out nightlife, dining, and entertainment weekly; and there’s always a steady parade of gringo celebrities making the scene, on the order of Paris Hilton, Lenny Kravitz, Moby, U2, J. Lo, Tom Cruise, and yes, Britney Spears.

And as icing on the cake, I was even more surprised to discover a hot, vibrant gay ambiente that though smallish in proportion to total population would still do many cities in the States or Europe proud, with more than a dozen eateries, a couple of dozen bars and discos, at least one bookstore, and more than a half-dozen bathhouses, mostly in the Roma and Zona Rosa neighborhoods and especially on a street called Calle Amberes, where same-sex PDAs in broad daylight are really no big deal.

“This has always been a machista country,” my filmmaker bud Federico Madrazo Borboa, 30, told me, “but in Mexico City gays have for a long time had more leeway than anywhere else.” Before the Spanish conquest, homosexuality was in some cases tolerated among some of Mexico’s pre-Columbian nations, such as the Maya and the Toltecs (there was even a very significant hermaphrodite god, Xochiquetzal, venerated as the deity of nonprocreative love, artistic creativity, and male homosexuality). The Aztecs, the top dogs when the conquistadors arrived, were not just a murderous but also murderously antihomo bunch—yet even they were put to shame by their conquerors, many of whom got the notion that every last indigenous Mexican was “addicted to sodomy.” So the new nominally Christian “morality” opened the door to predictable repression—including charming mass burnings—that persisted in various forms into the 20th century. Joto, common Mexican slang for fag, comes from the Spanish for the letter j, the designation for the cell block of Belén, a well-known jail where maricóns—almost always drag queens and the very nelliest—were locked up back in the 1940s and ’50s.

Even in 2005 old attitudes and habits have died hard among some. But more than a century of cosmopolitanism (including a gay scene dating back to the 1930s), a strong bohemian and arts community, leftist anticlerical tradition, and a gay rights movement that began in the early ’70s have all helped make D.F. (as many call the city) the country’s most liberal and gay-friendly bastion, especially under the current progressive city hall of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Nationwide, there are no sodomy laws, and there is now a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in schools, on the job, and other areas; the capital has additional laws shoring up these types of protections. There’s even an openly gay member of congress, Patria Jimenez. All in spite of the fact that Vicente Fox, the country’s president at the moment, is from a right-wing, Catholic-based party with a predictably homo-hating complex.

Indeed, sometimes the degree of tolerance in Mexico City seems downright bizarre to an American used to the antiqueer demagoguery increasingly common north of the border. “Fernando and I have always been totally accepted as parents,” genial, 42-year-old Uriel Valdez tells me over dinner with a group of their friends in the way-mod apartment he shares in trendy colonia Condesa with Fernando, his 39-year-old life partner of 11 years, and Uriel’s three young adopted children. Heartwarming, but what really blows my mind is that Uriel and his Spanish business partner, Carlos Díaz, just so happen to be the owners of Erotika, Mexico’s largest chain of sex shops, and have just produced La Verganza, an all-guy skin flick, themed on lucha libre (“free fighting”), a way-colorful local form of televised wrestling à la WWF. Yet this Catholic country’s live-and-let-live attitude has allowed this close-knit household of doting parents and obviously happy, well-adjusted kids to thrive unmolested.

There’s still plenty of progress to be made, of course. Marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples are still not much of a prospect for the time being (in Uriel and Fernando’s case, legally Uriel is a single adoptive father). And another friend, flautist Horacio Franco (who at a boyish 41 years is among the country’s hottest classical musicians despite regularly appearing onstage encased in outfits such as a skintight gold-lamé bodysuit and cape), observes, “Mexican society has been fairly tolerant of gays in general, but the media are still highly conservative.” Reasons include the fact that Mexico’s foremost TV advertiser, a Wonder bread–style baked atrocity called Pan Bimbo, is owned by a family that toes the hard line of the ultrareactionary Catholic cult Opus Dei.

Even here, though, cracks are forming; Franco has signed on as host of a new gay-themed segment of Sexo Diario, a sex-oriented program on a national cable channel, where he has free rein to discuss such topics as STDs and man sex. Feature films are also leading the way (such as Y Tu Mamá También, with its boy-on-boy scene toward the end), and I’m hoping to build on that tradition with the piece of celluloid I’m writing, to be released (Aztec gods willing) in late 2005 and featuring a key, sympathetic dyke, lesbians being generally less acknowledged in Mexico than their gay male siblings.

And the crucial next generation? Well, my 20-year-old friend Josué, a communications marketing major, is not out to his folks, and he believes his dad in particular “might be kind of upset.” But on the other hand, Josué doesn’t think being a joto is any big deal. Sitting on Calle Amberes at a bustling café called BGay BProud, surrounded by youth chattering over java and exuberantly living their openly queer lives, I can’t help but think that as cool a gay destination as Mexico City is in 2005, just imagine how it will really rock in 2010.

Miami-based travel and screenwriter Balido has written various travel-related books, including Access Gay USA.



(Dial 011-52-55 before all numbers, except toll-free ones) Inexpensive: Downtown, the Hotel Gillow (Isabel la Católica 17; 5518-1440) offers roomy renovated units in a distinguished colonial building from $41; double up to $79 for the grandiose Queen Elizabeth II Suite. Outside downtown but still quite central, Casa González (Rio Sena 69; 5514-3302; $19–$60) is a family-run compound of ivy-covered art deco houses turned into a charming, homey guesthouse. A Zona Rosa property that’s upscale and full-service (restaurant, pool, you name it) is the Hotel Century (Liverpool 152; 5726-9911); weekend rates start at $78. Moderate–Expensive: Our number 1 lodging pick is the W Mexico City (Campos Eliseos 252; 9138-1800; $179–$599), one of the hottest digs in town, with ultracool interiors, great dining, and a location in the trendy Polanco neighborhood. It’s W’s first hotel in Latin America. For electronica, attitude, mod-chic, a pool, so-so service, and a homo-heavy clientele, Polanco’s Habita (Avenida Presidente Masaryk 201; 800-337-4685; $195–$495).


Inexpensive: Zona Rosa’s BGay BProud (Calle Amberes 12-B; 5208-2547) serves good sandwiches, coffee, and desserts with a generous side of delicious faggotry. Moderate: The mid-range but upscale-feeling Punto y Aparte (Calle Amberes 62; 5533-5442) attracts plenty of chicos and chicas both with a varied international menu and a nice, not-overbearing ambience in a historic building. In Condesa, La Buena Tierra (Atlixco 94; 5211-4242) offers sidewalk tables; light, tasty, eclectic Mexican fare; and its share of queer following. Expensive:Casa Lamm (Alvaro Obregon 99; 5514-8501) may be in an upper-crusty cultural center in a stuffy old mansion in Roma, but its mod new Mexican-fusion restaurant is pulling in the trendies and the homos.


On Calle Amberes, Marrón Café (number 13; 5514-5971) is a white, minimalist, and low-key but popular before-club hangout, while Lipstick (number 1; 5514-4920) is a second-story hot spot that heats up later on weekend nights. So does the recently opened Ziguiri (number 14-A; 5511-3915), with a popular rooftop “beach,” complete with real sand. The capital’s hottest gay weekend scene is at Living (Avenida Paseo de la Reforma 483, Cuauhtémoc; 5286-0671), set in an old colonial mansion, half quaint loungy spaces and half high-tech boom-boom dance club. The latest megaclub is Stereo (Puebla 186; 5525-8681), a historic converted theater in Roma, with international headliners including Kevin Aviance and DJs such as Junior Vasquez.

Gay Info

Information is available from the Centro Cultural de la Diversidad Sexual (Colima 267, colonia Roma; 5514-2565).

Getting There

There’s extensive direct air service on Aeroméxico, American, Continental, Mexicana, Spirit, and United from Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. San Diego–based Arco Iris(800-765-4370) runs a gay summer tour to Mexico City. For year-round attention, Enkidu(5171-0100) is a locally based outfit offering customized itineraries for gay visitors.

The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at if you have any new information.
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